“Women, in particular, need to keep an eye on their mental and physical health, because if we are scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.
This statement by Michelle Obama highlights the poor light in which a woman’s health is seen. In a patriarchal world of ours, where a woman’s worth is gauged by her reproductive prowess, it becomes very important to address the issue of woman’s health. Women, since centuries, have been considered a liability, and so anything revolving around women is brushed under the carpet. Carrying such an archaic mindset in relation to a woman not only affects her health but the health of the future generations as well.
Determinants of Women’s Health
Woman’s health is a multi-dimensional issue. Interventions in childhood through adolescence, during the reproductive years and beyond, affect health later in life and across generations. A woman’s health is also determined by various biological and social determinants.A number of health risks are associated with childbirth and pregnancy and are a major cause of worry. The sad part, however, is that women need to struggle hard in getting access to the health care they need as compared to their male counterparts. Moreover, gender-based disparities in terms of employment, education and income hamper the ability of girls and women to protect their health.
The health issues that women face are different in developed and undeveloped societies. Rich and poor women are subject to different problems in their lifetime. While women in rich families are victims of numerous lifestyle diseases, their poor counterparts are worse off as opportunities to educate themselves are sparse.
Lack of infrastructure supporting women’s health
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The concerns are not one or two but myriad. Since childhood, the girl child and her health needs are neglected by her immediate family. Her low nutritional status derives from the fact that families do not consider women to be an important segment of the society. This negligence triggers the onset of a number of health conundrums that she is subject to in the long run. On reaching puberty, the inability to handle her menstrual cycle in a hygienic way puts her health in jeopardy. According to a recent survey, the unavailability of sanitary napkins in rural areas forces girls to use sand and cloth which, as a matter of fact, aren’t appropriate and cause great health hazards. Dearth of toilets is the harbinger of infections and diseases which particularly target women.
Lack of healthcare professionals, mid-wives, good hospitals and equipments are major reasons of maternal deaths in the country. The whole process of child-bearing often leaves women tired and weak but the constant pressure to get back to household work reduces the time required for her to recuperate.
Lifestyle diseases faced by women
Women living in the developed part of the world have their own share of health problems. Polycystic Ovarian Disorder has become a leading cause of infertility among women.It is characterised by cysts that get attached to a woman’s ovary which makes it difficult for her to stay pregnant. Sedentary lifestyles, high intake of aerated drinks and lack of regular exercise are the various reasons cited by experts. A huge percentage of the female population is being affected by this disease.
Girls and women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection since they lack access to knowledge that can help them negotiate safer sex. Lack of contraception also contributes to this problem in a major way. Owing to the subsidiary status that women are put to in a man’s world, their mental health statistics reveal an entirely different story. Many women commit suicide due to the violence meted out to them by their male counterparts. Depression hampers their ability to think in a positive way and ending their lives is the only option left with them. Widows, especially whose husbands commit suicide, are specifically vulnerable to mental illnesses.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases caused due to women’s exposure to smoke and indoor air pollution, is another major cause of death and disability among women. Deadly diseases like Cervical and Breast cancer are claiming lives of women in unimaginable ways. Worldwide, cervical cancer is both the fourth-most common cause of cancer and the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in women. While the symptoms can be detected at an early stage, women often shy away from discussing these symptoms with their family members.
Changes that can be made at different levels
Changes at both micro and macro levels are required to save women from perishing . Proper nutrition, prevention of child abuse and a supportive environment can work wonders in thwarting any kind of physical and mental problems among women that may develop later in life. Adolescent girls must be discouraged to use tobacco and alcohol which are directly linked with stroke and cancer later in life.
A lot of institutional changes must be initiated by authorities all over the world. While women are often considered to be the primary caregivers in the family, the stark reality is that societies and their health systems are failing women. The exorbitant costs of health care in relation to women discourages many of them to receive proper treatment. Removing financial barriers coupled with adequate health care is a possible solution to this problem.
A number of apposite measures are required to solve this burning issue. There is a dire need of building strong leadership and a coherent institutional response which addresses the issue in a proper way. The involvement and full participation of women and women’s organizations is essential. Framing correct public policies which give special attention to the needs of women are imperative for a healthy society. It is time the weaker sex is given its fair share of attention in a wholesome way.
Women form the backbone of the health system, and so institutions must create opportunities for women to be represented in executive or management related positions, Their entry to the formal health sector will be a boon for the whole world. They will also be recognised, supported and renumerated. The energy of the civil society can be harnessed in a proper way. Dissemination of information on women’s health is vital to spread awareness highlighting the issue. Prioritizing the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning and sex education and reduce maternal mortality rates through safe motherhood services and prenatal assistance. Gender –based violence must also be strictly dealt with. Creating employment opportunities for women with disabilities is another way of helping them in being a visible section of the society.
Women and Mental health
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Apart from keeping tab on their physical health, a lot of attention should also be given to their mental and emotional health. The employment of psychologists and counselors in different areas meant especially for enhancing the mental health of women can prove to be an important step in the right direction. Women, across the world, are in need of a catharsis.
With the onset of globalization, women have become active and smart. They are contributing to the economy in the best way possible. It is time for the society to correct their distorted perception of women. They must understand that their health is intrinsic to the wellness of the society.
Charvi Kathuria is an aspiring Freelance Writer. These days, she is scrutinising everything and anything that comes her way. Reading has become her favourite past time. She calls this hobby of hers, "food for brain".